When the Dallas Stars pulled off their trade deadline deal with the Los Angeles Kings this season, most Stars fans were probably too excited about Mattias Norstrom joining the club's blue line to even notice the prospect coming to Dallas with the big Swede.That prospect is Konstantin Pushkarev, and the consensus around the Iowa Stars is that the native of Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan, is an extremely impressive kid, both on and off the ice.
"Konstantin is a really passionate kid who loves the game and is a pleasure to be around," said Iowa Assistant Coach Paul Jerrard. "He works extremely hard and he wants to improve his game. He loves having the puck on his stick, and he is willing to work to make that happen. He has a lot of potential."
Pushkarev skated in 16 games for Los Angeles before the trade in February, tallying two goals and two assists for four points. He posted seven points (two goals, five assists) for Iowa after the trade in February, and has added a goal and two assists in Iowa's seven AHL Playoff games this spring.
"Pushkarev has been a very impressive kid since he joined us in February," said Iowa Head Coach Dave Allison. "This is a kid who came over to North America and played for the (Western Hockey League's) Calgary Hitmen and has got some great skills. He wants to learn, he wants to get ahead and he has a great love for the game."
Allison believes that much of Pushkarev's success, and work ethic, can be attributed to his impressive family. His father is former commander in the Russian Navy, while his mother is an accomplished concert pianist, his younger sister is an excellent gymnast and his brother is an up-and-coming young hockey player.
"I am very lucky to have such a wonderful family at home," said Pushkarev. "They have always supported me throughout my hockey career, even when I decided to come play in the Western League a few years ago. They are really excited about this playoff run that we are on now."
Pushkarev was preparing for a game with the Manchester Monarchs against the Norfolk Admirals when he received word of his trade to Dallas from Los Angeles Assistant General Manager Ron Hextall. "I was working on my sticks and getting ready for the game, when I saw that I had a few missed calls from Los Angeles," said Pushkarev. "Of course, I knew it was the trade deadline, so when I saw some missed calls from the 310 area code (Los Angeles), I knew I was being traded. When I heard that it was the Stars, I was excited and I was on my way to Des Moines the next morning."
Pushkarev had played with the Kings against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on January 15, and liked what he saw from his soon-to-be parent club.
"Dallas is a really good organization," said Pushkarev. "Once I was traded to the Stars, of course I paid more attention to the NHL team and they have it all. It's a good team, and I was surprised they lost in the first round. There's really good skill in that lineup, a great goalie in Marty Turco, a legendary player in Mike Modano and one of my favorite players, Sergei Zubov. I always watch the Russian players closely, and he is just amazing."
Pushkarev played for Team Kazakhstan at the 2003 World Junior Championships and World Under-18 Championships -- and yes, he has seen "Borat" multiple times (in both English and Russian) and thinks the movie is hilarious. However, despite his ties to the nation Sacha Baron Cohen put on the map for all the wrong reasons, Pushkarev holds a Russian passport and dreams of one day skating for Team Russia in international play.
"I was born in Kazakhstan, but I have a Russian passport," said Pushkarev, "so I could play for Russia as long as I haven't played for Kazakhstan in a four-year span. I'm going to play as best as I possibly can and hopefully one day, I can reach my lifelong wish of playing for Russia. Playing for Kazakhstan isn't that big a deal, they play in a lower pool and it's not on the same level as having Russia on my chest would be."
Pushkarev made his National Hockey League debut for the Los Anegeles Kings on March 27, 2006, notching an assist in his debut, and he was amazed at the speed and precision he saw.
"My first NHL game was honestly my hardest game ever," said Pushkarev. "I didn't have any idea how fast guys would be or how well they'd move the puck. They were all just flying around and I hardly even touched the puck. Once I got back to the NHL this season, it took a few games before I got more comfortable with the pace of the game at that level." For now though, Pushkarev is focused on the AHL Playoffs level, and he is excited about the opportunity to play in meaningful games this time of the year.
"This is a really good opportunity to be around the playoffs and the battles you have to face to win in the playoffs," said the 22-year-old. "There's a lot at stake now and there's a lot to get excited about. This is a perfect example for us all to raise our games to another level."
So yes, Stars fans, Mattias Norstrom was the centerpiece of the Stars' trade with Los Angeles in February, but Konstantin Pushkarev is definitely a prospect worth keeping an eye on...High Five!